Vibe and Violence: Picturesque Architecture and Urban Planning in the English and German-Speaking World Since the 18th Century. An Aesthetic Concept of Affective Control and (Social) Spatial Segregation (GER)

The picturesque, popular primarily in English and German-speaking countries, emerged in the architectural, urban planning, and cultural discourses of the 18th to 20th centuries. The term, often referred to as das Malerische in German, describes atmospheric and idyllic phenomena that characterize the vernacular, the landscape, and the identity-nostalgic, usually in ostensible contrast to the industrialized cities and rationalising planning strategies. Beginning in landscape painting and garden design, the concept has since been applied in architecture and urban planning, theme park design, tourism marketing, and image production in print and digital media.

From the 18th century onwards, nation-building in Europe and the USA has been accompanied by new aesthetic concepts like the picturesque, that affectively evoke collective identity and memory formation and can be effective in the sense of a ‘containment’ strategy. Collectives, regimes, and corporations have appropriated the controlling potential of this concept and continue to apply it in various forms – from flat images to immersive park design and even in urban planning, using it as a (bio)political tool. However, from its inception, this approach has produced socioeconomic and racial exclusion.

The presentation is structured into three parts. In part one, I take a fundamental look at the aesthetic category of the picturesque and its affective, technological, and political functions. I explore the concept with reference to the architectural historian John Macarthur, as a spatial “point of negotiation” in European modernism. In part 2, I provide a global overview of picturesque architecture and urban planning, focusing on English- and German-speaking countries. In part 3, as a concrete case study, I present the urban ambitions of the Disney Corporation (and accompanying developments); which with departments including Imagineering and Storyliving – with strong references to the picturesque – not only has movies and theme parks in its portfolio but to this day plans and builds entire residential communities ranging from the EPCOT urban vision to realization projects like Celebration and Golden Oak in Florida and Cotino in California.